Bad Hair Day? Madison Avenue Can Fix It — and Fix You, Too

Surprise, surprise! Yet another study pathologizes a common and trivial life disappointment — bad hair days. So says Wall Street Journal, reporting on a new Procter & Gamble study. The company wants to know why their Pantene brand is not selling better.

Wall Street Journal writes: “Scientists at the consumer-products giant surveyed women and found they felt less ‘hostile,’ ‘ashamed,’ ‘nervous,’ ‘guilty’ or ‘jittery,’ depending on the hair products they used, while at other times they said they felt more ‘excited,’ ‘proud’ and ‘interested.’ Users of a new version of Pantene, one researcher concluded, ‘reported more joy than those in the control group.'”

Joy. Yes. More joy. Why take a nap, catch up with an old friend, read a book, make love or sit outside in the evening with the moon and the summer breezes, when you can instead buy a plastic bottle of shampoo and wash your hair?

There’s a whole industry supporting this stuff — market research — and it’s the elephant in the room in our modern times. If the highly paid gurus at market research firms stuck to shampoo and toilet paper, I’d shrug it off. But they don’t. You name an industry, and they’re on it. Used to be just retail products, but now it’s anything that moves.

What average Jane ever heard of chemical company BASF before it began running TV commercials? “At BASF we don’t make a lot of the products you buy,” says the come-hither voice — the late Suzanne Pleshette? or perhaps an imitator — “We make a lot of the products you buy better.”

And politics too. For a long time now we’ve been electing candidates based on their commercials. Which means war chests. And campaigns are only going to advance further in that direction, thanks to the Supreme Court decision that corporations are entitled to free speech.

As every longtime reader of WomanUP knows, I adore the AMC show “Mad Men,” which depicts a top New York ad agency in its 1960s heyday. But I loathe advertising. (And yes, I see the irony: my employer is in the business of selling it.)

The PBS Frontline program, “The Persuaders” (which you can watch online free), begins with the observation that Times Square has, over the years, evolved into the inside of a pinball machine. I did not know New York City back in the day, but today the pinball analogy is right on target. Large, noisy, distracting ads permeate the urban landscape and all but drown out New York’s unique and compelling architecture.

I can count on two fingers the TV commercials I have loved. Hey there LG refrigerator ad that compresses 10 years of family life into one minute: I’m still looking for you. And of course everyone likes Liberty Mutual’s utopian dream, featuring the song “Half Acre” by folk-rock band Hem:

Today’s ubiquitous phrase “Lather. Rinse. Repeat” got its start on Madison Avenue. Shampoos saw their sales double after they added the repetition to their directions. (Think Alka-Seltzer — plop plop fizz fizz.)

Back to hair. Women are obsessed with hair, and they will pay a high price to make it look good. I recently wrote about women’s love-hate relationship with their hair. A bad makeup job is gone the next day, and irreparable clothing mistakes can be thrown away (or perhaps burned in a ritual). But getting a bad haircut is to be locked in a dungeon, fed thin gruel garnished with the occasional fish eye as protein, for two months until the damage grows over.

A seemingly well-informed reader of the Wall Street Journal article cited above made this comment:

A lot of women dump shampoos and conditioners after one try because the ad/copy makes it appear that after 1 shampoo, or a week, or whatever, you’ll have the same glorious, lustrous locks that model has. NOT! I did hair modeling as a teen and you can almost never replicate that look in reality. The ingredient that makes that hair look so sleek, healthy and shiny is paraffin wax, which they coat the model’s hair with . . . Most women dye, bleach or otherwise torture their hair — nothing makes up for that except a good cut. And oh, I like my butter and fatty foods — you need to consume those to have healthy hair, nails and skin, but most women diet, cutting those out first, and the result is dry, frazzled hair, weak nails and papery skin.

Are you listening, junk food companies? I couldn’t conjure up a better strategy against health foods if I tried. That is, other than the obvious: Life is short. Enjoy.

[originally published by Politics Daily in 2010]


About Quixotic Chick

I write. I take pictures. I survived cancer.
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